Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Imagining Jesus

I was watching a video of a colleague of mine talk about research on human imagination and I realized that this research has a lot to say about how we imagine Jesus, or if we can imagine Jesus. More or less, what the research shows is that we imagine things by altering reality. So the more something deviates from reality and from what we are familiar with the more difficult it is to imagine. Believing in Jesus might involve imagining that he actually did magical things and/or it could involve imagining him doing magical things as part of a metaphor. Both literal and metaphorical meaning require that we use the same system of imagination. This means our understanding is limited by the limits of our imagination.

One thing that I find interesting is that there are a lot of people who believe in God but then find it illogical to believe in Jesus. Jews, of course, don't believe in Jesus in the same way that Buddhist and atheists don't believe - it is simply not part of their belief system. However, Muslims and Christians believe in Jesus. If you didn’t know that Muslims believe in Jesus I have put some book suggestions below. Muslims believe that Jesus was a messenger from God (or Allah, which is another name for God, if you don’t know that Allah and God refer to the same deity please refer to the books below). However, Muslims do not believe that Jesus was literally the Son of God, so Muslim fundamentalists and Christian fundamentalists do not agree on this, but they do agree on the virgin birth (so it’s really a technical argument about the meaning of the word “father”). Muslim fundamentalists also do not believe that Jesus is God, because that makes no sense. How could Jesus be a man and also God and also his own father at the same time. In fact, as I have pointed out elsewhere, a lot of Christians do not believe that these things are literally true either, again because it is not logical. Instead they believe that Jesus was a messenger, and that these things have a metaphorical meaning.

So here is my point, once you believe that God is real you have just taken a gigantic metaphysical leap. You have entered a realm where logic is not the rule. Instead, it is the limits of imagination that shape things. Logic enters only in that it constrains our imagination.

From a Buddhist perspective, the emphasis should be on that which helps you, rather than that which is logical. The Buddha compared theological thinking to a net that traps you. Some people are trapped in a net that makes it impossible to imagine Jesus and others are trapped in a net that makes it impossible not to. But in actuality, logic cannot provide insight on this. It is a trap.

Islam for DummiesA History of God (History Channel) (A&E DVD Archives)A History of God: The 4,000-Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity and Islam

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